WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As President Barack Obama mulls whether to commit more troops to Afghanistan, a Gallup survey during troop buildup earlier this year found nearly half of Afghans (49%) saying additional troops would help stabilize the security situation in the southern provinces. Thirty-two percent of Afghans said they would not. But opinions varied widely across Afghanistan at the time; residents in the troubled South were mostly mixed or uncertain, while those in the West largely disagreed that more U.S. troops would help the situation.
Top U.S. and NATO commander Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal Friday submitted his long-anticipated request for more troops to the Pentagon. But before the White House even considers his request, officials say the administration needs to complete its reassessment of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan. Obama himself has said he's skeptical whether deploying additional troops -- beyond the 21,000 he committed earlier this year -- will make a difference in Afghanistan. Further, half of Americans would oppose it.
Afghans surveyed in June as additional U.S. troops started to arrive were more likely to be convinced than skeptical that the infusion of troops would help stabilize the security situation in the southern provinces. Nearly half (49%) said more troops would help, while a sizable 32% thought they wouldn't and 19% didn't know.
But opinions varied widely across Afghanistan, suggesting residents' views about troop buildup in the South were largely filtered through their own local experiences. Afghans in the East and South, where additional U.S. troops deployed this year have been sent to combat the growing Taliban insurgency, were mixed as to whether more troops would help the security situation. In the once-relatively peaceful North and Central regions, residents solidly said more troops would help. And residents in the West were most skeptical, with a strong majority (69%) saying more troops wouldn't help.
Afghans' views vary by ethnicity as well, which helps explain some of these regional differences but doesn't explain them alone. Pashtuns, who dominate Afghanistan's South and East, were mostly mixed, with 35% saying more troops would help the situation in the southern provinces, 38% saying they would not, and 28% saying they didn't know. Conversely, at least 6 in 10 Tajiks and Hazaras, who are predominant in the North and Central areas, respectively, said more troops would help the situation in the South. However, sentiments were similar among different ethnic groups in the North and West.
In addition to more resources and a new strategy in Afghanistan, McChrystal wrote in his assessment report to the administration that the United States must "redefine the fight" and "gain support of the people." Gallup's June survey suggests the Obama administration has some work to do in this regard. Afghans' opinions of the leadership of the United States had not changed much from 2008; they remained split in their approval of U.S. leadership, with 50% approving and 42% disapproving.
Overall, Afghans who said they approved of U.S. leadership were more likely to say sending additional U.S. troops would help the security situation in the southern provinces (65%) than those who disapproved (35%). This pattern appears to hold across most regions in Afghanistan, though approval numbers in several regions, such as the West and South, were too small to report results reliably.
Nearly half of Afghans surveyed in June amid U.S. troop buildup said additional troops would help stabilize the security situation in the southern provinces, but much has changed in Afghanistan since. Afghans have watched the security situation worsen and violence escalate and spread beyond Taliban strongholds in the South and East, increasing the numbers of U.S., NATO, and Afghan casualties.
It may be weeks before the president completes his reassessment of the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and decides whether to deploy additional combat troops U.S. commanders have requested. Gallup's data suggest Afghans' views on additional troops are likely to vary across Afghanistan, depending on security and other factors in play.
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Results are based on face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted in June 2009 in Afghanistan. For results based on the sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points. The margin of error reflects the influence of data weighting. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls. Seventeen provinces were randomly chosen from 34 provinces and the sample was adjusted to reflect the population in terms of age, gender, and ethnicity, and urbanicity.
North Afghanistan: Results based on interviews with 290 adults from the provinces of Balkh, Kunduz, Sar E Pol, Takhar, Badakhstan, and Samangan. The maximum margin of sampling error is ±7 percentage points.
Central Afghanistan: Results based on interviews with 250 adults from the provinces of Bamiyan, Kabul, Parwan. The maximum margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points.
South Afghanistan: Results based on interviews with 230 adults from the provinces of Ghazni, Kandahar, Zabul, and Paktika. The maximum margin of sampling error is ±8 percentage points.
West Afghanistan: Results based on interviews with 130 adults from the provinces of Badghis and Herat. The maximum margin of sampling error is ±11 percentage points.
East Afghanistan: Results based on interviews with 100 adults from the provinces of Nurestan and Narangarhar. The maximum margin of sampling error is ±13 percentage points.